Catholic bishops in Texas are all-in advocating for parental school choice in the state Legislature this spring. 

“St. Paul VI spoke well of the Catholic Church’s understanding of education. He said, ‘Parents, who have the primary and inalienable right and duty to educate their children, must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools.’ Therefore, parental choice continues to be a top priority of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops,” Bishop Michael Olson of Fort Worth said in a video released Monday.  

A bill introduced by state Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, would establish an education savings account program to allow parents to receive some of their tax dollars back to help pay for the educational institution of their choice. This would allow more Catholic parents to be able to better afford to enroll their children in a Catholic or private school or home-school. 

In Iowa earlier this year, Catholic bishops hailed the passage of a school choice bill as a boon for Catholic schools. That state’s bill would allow students to put $7,598 in an educational savings account to be spent at any private or parochial school. 

“Currently, there are not any private school choice programs in Texas,” Helen Osman, a spokesperson for the Texas Catholic Bishops, told CNA. 

“There are charter schools in many areas of the state, and the state does allow home schooling, but there is no funding provided to parents to choose educational options for their children … We will be testifying in support of [parental choice legislation],” she said. 

With the backing of the state’s Catholic bishops, school choice reform seems likely to happen in Texas. 

In addition, state Sen. Brandon Creighton, R-Conroe, introduced the Texas Parental Bill of Rights to guarantee parents the right to access information about their children and make decisions regarding their education. 

The bill explicitly states that a parent has “the right to direct the moral and religious training of the parent’s child, make decisions concerning the child’s education, and consent to medical, psychiatric, and psychological treatment of the parent’s child.”

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If passed into law, the bill would guarantee Texas parents the right to have input on their children’s courses and educational materials. Parents would have the ability to opt their children out of unwanted vaccinations or instruction deemed objectionable such as on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Key Texas political leaders, including Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, have also signaled their support for the legislation.

Abbott, a Catholic Republican, said on Tuesday that “we must empower every parent in Texas to choose the best education opportunity for their child. This session, we’ll deliver education freedom for every family in Texas.” 

Both parental choice bills were presented to the state Senate’s education committee on Wednesday, the first step the bill needs to clear to be passed into law. 

Many Texas Catholics showed up at the state capitol in Austin Wednesday to show their support for the bill. Some, including Bishop Olson and Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops legislative director Jennifer Allmon, testified before the education committee in support of parental choice. 

“This is not a zero-sum game where private schools win, and public schools lose. It is a win-win for communities when all children can flourish in the educational setting best suited for them,” Allmon said in her testimony.

“It is unrealistic to expect every public school to be everything to every child. By combining public school parental rights improvements with an education savings account, [parental choice legislation] recognizes that public schools will remain the predominant method of receiving education in Texas while allowing children who need something else to have a better chance to access it.”

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